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Travel & Leisure

Japan set to lift quarantines for business travelers in summer

Exclusive: Visitors from Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand and Australia are first in line

Planes wait on the tarmac at Narita International Airport. Japan is eager to restart business travel to and from countries with low coronavirus infection rates. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

TOKYO -- Japan is poised to let business travelers from some countries bypass a two-week coronavirus quarantine requirement as soon as this summer, with proof of a negative virus test result, Nikkei learned Thursday.

The government plans to hold talks with countries with similarly low infection rates to renegotiate immigration restrictions on both sides. Discussions will begin as early as this month with Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand, with new rules to be implemented once an agreement is reached.

The changes, which come after Japan lifted its nationwide coronavirus state of emergency, would likely cover corporate executives, engineers and other specialists, internal company transfers, and technical trainees, among others, according to details of a government proposal seen by Nikkei.

Tokyo has for now stopped short of reviewing travel restrictions for the U.S., China and South Korea. Average daily travel to these areas topped 30,000 people in 2018, and fully reopening economic ties would require drastic changes to Japan's coronavirus testing regime.

To receive a visa, travelers would need to submit documentation of a negative polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test in the country of origin to a local Japanese Embassy or Consulate. They would also need to provide an itinerary with travel and accommodation plans for two weeks after entering Japan to allow contact tracing.

The receiving company in Japan would have to explain why the trip is necessary and provide information on its oversight of the traveler. The government will consider how to prioritize requests if too many come in.

Upon arriving in Japan, travelers would be required to undergo another PCR test at the airport and report on their health over the preceding two weeks. If the test comes back negative and the paperwork is in order, they would be allowed to skip the two-week quarantine.

Use of public transit would be banned for two weeks after entry. One proposal would require travelers to keep location tracking active on their smartphones. Going outside of approved locations could be punished by deportation.

Because immigration restrictions are typically reciprocal, Japanese nationals would likely be subject to similar rules in countries that accept these terms.

The Japanese government has advised against travel to 111 countries and regions. Though these recommendations are not legally binding, travelers face the prospect of two-week quarantines at most destinations. Bilateral agreements that facilitate travel should help spur a quicker revival of cross-border economic activity.

Testing will be key. Japan currently does not offer coronavirus PCR tests to asymptomatic people without a doctor's recommendation, with the exception of pregnant women, but the proposed rules would require screening travelers not suspected to have the virus.

On average, more than 8,000 people traveled each day in 2018 from Japan to Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. Japan now conducts 5,000 to 6,000 PCR tests daily for the entire country.

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